Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw
Spring 2011 saw the hugely successful opening of the student-curated exhibition, "Samba Sessão: Afro-Brazilian Art and Film," at Penn's Arthur Ross Gallery. The exhibition was organized by a Halpern-Rogath Curatorial Seminar led by art history's Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw and the history department's Tamara Walker. The works included were loaned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where they make up a significant part of the museum's John Axelrod Collection. As a part of preparing for the exhibition, the 8 students enrolled in the course travelled to Boston to see the works and to meet with Mr. Axelrod, a lawyer who collected the objects during during the 1980s and 90s while working as a real estate developer in Latin America. In early January, the professors accompanied the students on a week-long trip to Brazil to learn more about the realities of life and culture in that country. During one very busy week, the group visited numerous galleries and museums in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, meeting with specialists and dealers, sampling the local cuisine and music, and taking art-related tours.
Nearly 300 people attended the exhibition's opening, which featured live Bateria drumming by students from Penn's Wharton School and dance-inducing samba music by Philadelphia's own Alô Brasil, playingAfrican influenced music (samba batucada, samba reggae, pagode, maracatú, ijexá) from many different regions of Brazil. During the run of the show (April 7 – July 29, 2012), the Arthur Ross Gallery also featured Capoeira lessons and students ran a related film series that was hosted by Harrison College House.
In addition to the art objects that were included in the exhibition, the student's produced short digital videos that analyzed Brazilian films of their choice. These videos, made with training received in special workshops provided by the excellent staff of the Wiegle Information Commons in Van Pelt Library, were displayed in the space of the gallery alongside the works of art and the student-composed labels. A small catalog was published along with an informative website.